Dobbe, or John Elvis Dobbe is hands down, one of the friendliest, most psyched person I know across the climbing and snow and skateboarding communities. His belief about equity in the community clearly values mentoring, which in his words means "bringing people into the fold." And Dobbe has done just that - contributing to the community in meaningful and sustaining ways. As owner of Focus Boardshop, his repertoire runs deep as he not only knows business but he's obviously passionate about the business he built. I know it can be a difficult thing to answer personal questions but Dobbe does this interview with style and honesty. I have a few favorite parts but the highlight is in response to what makes him unique (#7, 9, 15). I also enjoyed learning his backstory and all the little and big things that tell his story beyond climbing, snow and skateboarding. Enjoy, and thanks Dobbe!
So I’m an army brat. I was born in Georgia but I’m not quite a southern boy. I have two older sisters, Michelle and Charesse, and a younger brother, Dana. When my parents divorced, I was 7 and my mother and sisters did not get along that well so my brother and I went to live with my mom - Leslie and my sisters went with my dad, Gary. My mom later remarried Jack Hartvig. Gary is my dad but Jack is my father. I learned calmness, kindness and how to be a better man from Jack even if it took most of my boyhood to learn it. My birthday is 4/11/1980, and I'm 35 going on 26.
How would you describe yourself as a child?
I was a wild child - I played in the woods a lot. I was always climbing over fences and onto rooftops or riding my bike miles out of town to the lake. My sister Michelle always calls me Johnny.
Do you think characteristics or temperament or interests as a child inform your passion(s) today?
I think I have always wondered about things and was drawn to problem solving of all kinds. If you like problem solving, climbing might be one of the best sports to find. Between skateboarding, snowboarding and climbing, you really learn the value of trying regardless of failure. In all these sports, you fail a ton, but one success makes the whole process a success. I think this way of thinking has helped me to not really get stressed out in life or work. Owning a business can be super stressful if you let it.
What is a favorite memory as a child/adolescent?
I don’t know that I have one favorite memory as a child. We never really took vacations as kids but I do have a lot of awesome memories building tree forts and running around the woods with my friends and cousins that all blend together.
Do you have a favorite or strong memory of school? Can you tell me about a teacher who influenced you?
So I never really applied myself at school. I would always do well on tests because I’m an attentive listener and remember most everything, but never did any homework. My favorite teacher was my drama lit teacher, Miss Magelly (not sure on the spelling of her name). She taught one of the first classes where my input mattered most and I could always talk my way through most things. When the school was giving me a hard time about being able to graduate early, she stepped in and helped me get out of there.
Who else in life has influenced you?
My friends have always been my family - I spend more time with them then anyone else. When I was a young man, I met Red (Mike Carpenter) and he really opened up the door to climbing outside. He was the best mentor I could have had. I think it really helps to have someone bring you into the community and teach you the way that things have been. With most things, there is a normal etiquette and if you know them, at least then you can decide if you want to follow them based on where they are coming from. I think a lot of the climbing community could use a good mentor to bring them into the circle.
Growing up I was never into team sports but ended up finding strong communities in both snowboarding and rock climbing. For me, the whole goal of my store, Focus, is to build boarders - I don’t just want to sell people stuff. I want to help them have the best chance to get hooked on it. I want Focus to be a place where families with little kids can come in and be helped into the lifestyle and not feel like they are looked down on for not being as into skating or snowboarding as we are. I want it to still be a place where if you’re super into it, we can geek out with you about the best stuff out there. Personally, I think that one of the biggest things people can do to support equity is to be part of a community - whether it be sporting, social or other - that you set an example of bringing new people into the fold and not making it a members only club.
Which aspects of your job do you enjoy? Feel challenged by?
I love both my jobs. Most days I start my day out at Boulders Climbing Gym, setting routes or boulder problems. One thing I really try and do is set problems that people will want to climb more than once. Sometimes, I’ll do a problem just to get it done but would never climb again, and for me those just aren’t worth setting.
Around 11am, I head into Focus Boardshop. A lot of the time, I still walk in, and look around and am super pumped that I built this place from the ground up and 11 years later it’s doing better than ever. I love to talk to people about gear or trips they or I have taken. My job really keeps me young. I do the whole thing and I am running the business well, but most other parts of my life I am not a adult! I will get in my car and drive across the country for two days of climbing or snowboarding at the drop of a hat.
What lessons has your work life taught you?
When I first opened the shop, we killed it. The first three years the economy was good and there was hardly anyone else selling what we sold in town, and online was not what it is now. Then the recession hit and I really learned how to run the store lean. Looking back, I could have saved so much money those first few years if I ran the shop like I do today. Our yearly sales went down from those years, but we make more now because we spend money a lot better. I look at a lot of businesses that never learned how to manage money and am so glad I had to.
What did you imagine you'd be doing today?
Male model but Chris cornered the market! Snowboarding and rock climbing which I still do as much as I can!
Snowboarding and Rock climbing. I think if I could ride powder everyday it would be hard to pull me off the hill, but since I’m in the midwest, climbing is much easier to go and do.
What makes you stop and go “Wow!”
Humbly strong people. Well, humbly strong people and attractive athletic woman.
Got a short term goal related to your passions? I have worked a lot over the last eleven years and I’m trying to take more short trips this year. I’ve already been climbing in Tennessee and snowboarding in Colorado and Washington this year, and plan to take at least a three day weekend trip each month.
High point in Life:
Opening my store.
Turning point in Life:
Getting divorced. I’m not one who likes to fail. I’m not a sore loser but I don’t like to let people down, and in this case it’s hard to not feel like you failed the other person.
What are 15 things that make you uniquely YOU?
1. I have tube socks tattooed to my legs!
2.I was born to run. I was the least prepared looking one at the start of the 50K but finished in the top 10%. I might have still been wearing surf shorts back then.
3 My middle name is Elvis so I feel the need to take over the dance floor at every chance.
4. Worlds fastest burlap sack racer.
5. Superhuman bear crawling speed.
6. I climbed the Grand Tetons in skate shoes.
7. I’m overly optimistic and this helps me finish most things because I always believe I can.
8. I think I can beat you at dice because I’m good at it.
9. When things are really hard on a long run or workout, I always think of one scene from a movie I really like - Gattaca. The two brothers have a challenge to swim the furthest out to sea, and the weaker brother ends up having to save his stronger brother. He asks how he beat him and he says, “I didn’t save anything for the way back.” I like this a lot. Leave it all out there and use your willpower to get back.
10. I never sit still for long but you put a puzzle or sSudoku in front of me and I can’t move away.
11. At 25, I had $250K in loans and $400K in a lease. I look back and am glad I was bold but might not make that play today. All in!!!
12. You don’t get abs like these eating pastries everyday so at least one day a week, I don’t!
13. If we are friends there is not much I won’t do for you. I gave my friend, Gabe, my new car to drive across the state a week after we met because I didn’t trust his car.
14. I’m 35 but if you’re going to live to 120, that’s still young.
15. I have the best friends!! When times got tough my friends were so helpful in getting me back on track.
LRC in Tennessee is so much fun. I love sandstone. I will run anywhere that has trails in the woods.
What are 20 things that make you feel grateful?
Friends, Family, My Health, Focus Boardshop, My employees, My cats Mr meow & Rose, Snowboarding, Climbing, Batch bakehouse, Boulders, Road trips, Taking trips - not vacations, Wisconsin, dark beer, red wine, the roof over my head, my boyish good looks, eternal youth, FRIENDS.
What a great interview with an all-around great person! Thanks again Dobbe - I know more about your today than I did yesterday!